Battle of Kasserine Pass
19-24 February 1943

The Battle of Kasserine Pass, although it may sound contradictory, was only a successful episode of an Axis offensive overall failed, against the Allies in Western Tunisia during World War 2.

Tunisian Campaign

In early 1943, the Allies seemed on the way toward a total victory in North Africa after the triumph in the Battle of El Alamein and the landings in Morocco and Algeria. The German and Italian forces were concentrating in Tunisia, where they hoped to hold out.

The British Eighth Army of Montgomery was not yet ready to attack the Mareth Line, located in southeastern Tunisia. Therefore, the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel decided to deal first with the Anglo-American forces which had landed during Operation Torch and were advancing from Algeria towards the eastern coast of Tunisia.

In the first part of February, the Germans advanced to the Atlas Mountains bordering Algeria and defeated the inexperienced U.S. troops at Faid and Sidi Bou Zid. The next intention of Rommel was to occupy Tebessa, west of Kasserine, thus capturing the American supplies and removing the danger that the Allies to cut the communications line leading to the Mareth Line.

Kasserine Pass - Rommel's Last Moment of Glory

On February 19, 1943, the Axis forces attacked both to the west, towards Tebessa, and to the north, towards Sbiba. The 21st Panzer Division's attack towards Sbiba had no chance against the British 6th Armoured Division, supported by U.S. infantry and artillery.

On the first day, the U.S. Army also repelled the attack on Kasserine Pass. The pass was defended by Stark Force, named after the U.S. 26th Regimental Combat Team's Commander, and having in its order of battle infantry, engineers, tank destroyers, and artillery. However, during the night, the forces led by Rommel managed to occupy positions on the flanks. The Axis units resumed the attack in the morning. After midday, the Afrika Korps Assault Group, the 10th Panzer Division and the Italian 131st Armored Division Centauro prevailed, and the Americans retreated in disarray.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-071-31 / [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ultimate Failure of the Axis

On 21 February, the German-Italian forces continued their offensive towards Tebessa but, for two days, they failed to dislodge the U.S. Army at Djebel el Hamra. The Americans then launched a successful counterattack which resulted in capturing several hundred of prisoners.

At the same time, the Germans attacked towards Thala but the powerful fire of the U.S. and British artillery stopped them.

The shrinking supplies and the last failures to break through the Allied defense prompted Rommel to withdraw, focusing his attention on the British Eighth Army which was assembling its forces in southern Tunisia.

Although it inflicted severe losses on the Americans, the Axis's offensive did not achieve its ultimate goal, and the campaign was heading towards the outcome expected by the Allies. The U.S. Army learned valuable lessons which made it more efficient in subsequent battles.

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